FROM the one-footed mollusk to proud Homo sapiens, the upward trend in evolution has been apparent for millions of years: Two feet are good.
Ignoring this, popular trends have suckered us into taking a giant step backward in our Darwinian journey. We now willingly subject our feet to fixed-position shackles, screwed onto a spiteful plank of fiberglass -- essentially one big, long, slippery foot -- known as a snowboard. Make no mistake, friend: The wiggly locomotion this instrument enables on snow is a far cry from skiing and no simple Alpine twist on surfing or skateboarding -- two activities in which there's greater latitude to adjust balance and position, not to mention an opportunity to bail out. This is different.
Allegedly, of course, it's better.
"You still ski?" friends have asked incredulously. "Try snowboarding once, and you'll never go back."
"Why?" I would reply.
"It's cool," they would say. "You can do tricks."
And so I took the bait, traveled to Mountain High in the San Gabriel Mountains and purchased a lesson from an aptly named instructor, Nord Embroden. A seasoned mountain man with a contagious laugh, Nord was forthcoming about the arduous transition from skiing -- where two skis and two poles channel potential from all four limbs -- to snowboarding: "You really need three days to get the hang of it."
Having only one day to "hang," I charged forward with the lesson anyway, learning to look and lean in the direction I wanted to go, to hop into new positions and to fall properly -- rolling onto the hips in backward falls and bringing the forearms together for frontward spills. Most important, Nord taught me to "cut" the uphill edge of my board on turns to avoid accidents altogether. "You're a natural," he said, filling my head with a confidence that reflected my actual endowments about as well as Cheez Whiz does Cheddar.
Then it was time to cut the Nordic umbilical cord and head down the mountain unchaperoned. What followed was a three-hour debacle of continuous wipeouts and pain in my buttocks, wrists, elbows, knees, hips, shoulders and skull. What hurt the most was that, with a three- to five-foot base of snow, Mountain High never looked better. All seven of the main, western area's lifts were open, and it was a beautiful day . . . for skiing.
But I was snowboarding. Stuck on the green slopes -- the easiest, but the flattest, most painful surface to land on -- I was a sliding disaster area. The last time down, I hit my head so hard, I hollered.
"Are you OK?" a trio of teen thrashers asked me from a chairlift passing overheard, their absolute sincerity convincing me I was finished.
"Yes," I told them.
WHERE: Mountain High Resort, 24510 State Highway 2, Wrightwood
WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekends
PRICE: $51 to $62 for all-day adult lift ticket; $35 board rental; $90 for one-hour private lesson; or $69 beginner package (restricted lift ticket, equipment rental, basic group lesson)